Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Food

So what exactly, is it?  There are many interpretations of the term deconstructed food, but one that comes to mind as I understand it, is the analysis of a recipe, separately preparing the major elements of that recipe, then presenting those elements in a creative, unexpected way.  (Chefs out there, sorry for the over-simplification!)

As an architect, my approach to deconstructed food is more simply in terms borrowed from the construction industry rather than the delicate culinary arts industry.  In preparing food for my friend Margaret, who requires a puree/liquid diet due to her cancer treatment for squamous cell carcinoma of her tongue, I deconstruct vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and other foods to a puree form.  I then reconstruct (assemble, rebuild) individual pureed food types to look like the familiar comfort foods that Margaret remembers and loves.

Cooking up veggies, pureeing and pouring a luscious mixture into a soup bowl is food for the soul.  A warm (or chilled) pureed soup is wonderfully flavorful and slips smoothly down the throat in such a satisfying way.  But what if soup was served two or three times a day, everyday for 10 or more weeks along with supplemental drinks, as Margaret will require?  After a few weeks of soup, soup and more soup might she no longer find it satisfying?  Will she miss her favorite comfort foods such as beef stew, hamburgers and French fries, pork chops, roasted chicken, nice salads?

These are questions I felt compelled to address as I planned and developed Margaret’s menus.  I wanted Margaret to have a feeling of anticipation of her next meal.  And I wanted to surprise her with meals whose images triggered her favorite memories of her reliable comfort foods.

Soups still look like soup but….

To puree is to deconstruct.  For Margaret’s soups, I deconstruct each vegetable, partner them with other vegetables and garnish and create visual designs of swirls, squiggles and color bursts.  The soup bowl is my palette and the veggies are my media. The soups still look like soup but just a little more whimsical and a little more fun to see.

It’s puree, really?

For some of the main entrees, I reconstruct the puree so the comfort food dinners I make visually imply the meals as we know it, with natural colors, 3-dimensional forms and textures.

Take this all-pureed hamburger meal for example: The bun is pureed white bread, spread in a tiny bowl and frozen.  More puree was spread on a cookie sheet and after frozen, a cookie cutter the same diameter as the tiny bowl, was used to create the bottom half of the bun.  I brushed on a sweet potato puree glaze to give the bun some color.

Similarly with the “French fries”, I pureed boiled potatoes, spread it on a cookie sheet and when frozen, I cut the potatoes into strips then used a sweet potato glaze for color.  Ditto for the hamburger, using a cookie cutter  to cut out patties from the frozen sheet of cooked ground beef.

“Cheese, lettuce and catsup”?  Yep, all pureed veggies.  For more detail on this and other meals, see the “Methods and Techniques” page.

13 thoughts

  1. I find this wonderful. I work at a veterans home and we have on average 6-8 purees out of our 120 beds. We focus on making our mealtimes high quality but seem to forget the puree residents. I would love to start doing more of this puree design food. I would love to hear more tips and techniques you have tried. Tools that would be a good investment for our facility. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you but first, kudos to you for helping our veterans and caring about their health and welfare! Indeed, I need to transfer my draft notes to the “Means, Methods and Techniques” page so thanks for the nudge…I will work on that and I think the info may be helpful. Regarding your specific question about investing in tools, I prepared the meals using what I had on hand in my home kitchen; blender, blending stick, stove, fridge/freezer and miscellaneous gadgets I happened to find useful for the task. My blender is the typical home type blender but you may need a bigger, faster, commercial type. Other than that, my tools were pretty common.

      1. Currently we use a robo coup blender to do the pureeing. I am going to start looking into different shaped cookie cutters or silicone molds to help with the shapes. To do this, we would definitely have to prepare the purees ahead of time and then defrost and warm at meal time. 8 purees doesn’t seem like a lot, but add 112 other residents that can choose what they want to eat for each meal it can be chaotic at meal times.

  2. You talk about freezing and then cutting the foods and coloring them. How do the food shapes hold up once the food defrosts or is heated up to proper temp.

    1. All the foods were fully cooked and pureed prior to freezing. Once defrosted and heated, they held their shape but once you took a spoon to it, all the solid looking foods (french fries, sliced chicken, hamburger etc.) would be as creamy as the soups.

  3. Thanks. That was one issue we have had in the past. We shaped the food when it was cool then when it was warmed to eat it would start to “melt’ and loose shape. What were you using in the pureeing process, a gelatin or thickener? I seemed to have made this my pet project now. I saw your pictures and decided that this would be what I am going to focus on. So any tips and some more pictures would be awesome.

  4. You’ll have a blast developing artistic foods for your vets and they will get a kick out of it too! I used the kitchen tools I had on hand including cookie cutters but I think for your purposes, molds would be faster and easier. Once sheets of pureed chicken, beef, potatoes for “french fries” etc. are frozen, they were sometimes difficult to cut, so molds would definitely work better especially for the quantities you need. Since my friend Margaret had radiation therapy in her throat, all my dishes were whole foods; no additives, thickeners, spices, citrus, artificial coloring for fear it would hurt her tender throat tissue. To thin the foods for pureeing, I used the water the veggies were cooked in and in some cases like potatoes, I used whole milk. Again, your charges have a different situation so experimenting with thinning and thickening will be instructive!

  5. I am interested in how you were able to get the foods to hold their shape once warmed up. We have tried in the past and this seems to have been the biggest problem.

    1. The trick is to handle the meals as little as possible during the defrost/warming process. I prepared each meal packet in a plastic bowl lined with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. To serve, I removed it from the freezer, removed the plastic wrap and put it in a serving bowl for defrosting in the fridge, and warming in the microwave. During the defrost/warming process, the fine design lines of the soups blurred but the design pretty much stayed in tact. The solid-looking foods stayed in place but were in a fragile, almost a suspended mousse-like state. When pureeing those foods, I thinned it with a little of its cooking liquid so it had a stiffer body than the soups. I never experimented with fully heating the meals because everything was fully cooked and I anticipated that hot foods would hurt Margaret’s throat. Warming it just to take the chill off helped to preserve the shapes and presentation. Does that info help?

      1. yes thank you very much. I am going to start experimenting to see what we can do. Thanks again. Will send some pics when we get to that stage. I look forward to the update of your website.

  6. Hi Susan-
    Bob just explained this over lunch and showed me the blog site-holy smokes! This is very creative and looks to be very time consuming. I see you are still using some of those tricks-of-design & construction from your professional life ! Amazing hamburger & Fries !

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